Establishing a classroom culture

What if work was more like going to school?

A few months back, I wrote a post after attending an event that discussed Positive Deviance.  The exposure I gained to the concept of positive deviance has me thinking, from time to time, about where we can find examples of exactly the behavior we desire in others.  Since there is very little that’s new under the sun, there are likely individuals, or small clusters, that exist in much larger systems where ideal behaviors and actions are carried out routinely and very often out of habit.  In fact, it can be so habitual that people who are carrying out what would be extraordinary efforts for others don’t know they are doing something remarkable and don’t seek out any special recognition as a result.

Recently, I came across this article on teaching, and it’s part of a larger blog dedicated to good teaching.  It reminded me of several experiences I’ve had as a student when the class was taught by a particularly effective teacher.  I noticed that these folks tended to have very organized and well-structured plans for their classes.  Furthermore, they made highy efficient use of very limited time, within which they were expected to convey a great deal of inofrmation and complete several tasks, all of which were measured against some objective criteria.

In order to execute their plans, the teachers would do the following things:

  • structure difficult, but achievable, tasks and provide the necessary tools and training for achieving the objective 
  • provide firm deadlines and hold people accountable for not meeting them (and also show forgiveness and judiciously extend those deadlines when warranted)
  • Do as much planning as possible up front, in order to assure the value-added portion of their work (delivering the actual lesson) went smoothly
  • Clearly communicate, document, and reinforce understanding of the criteria for success and explain the the rewards system

It strikes me that these actions are identical to what is expected of strong managers and leaders:  Planning, crisp execution, communication, and accountability.  Additionally, these strong teachers tended to use the following methods to make students not simply perform their tasks, but to understand why they were doing them, and apply that knowledge to practical situations:

  • ask open-ended questions and let people come to the answers themselves
  • provide helpful answers in order to guide people as they struggled through the assignment, rather than dictate the correct response
  • use both auditory and visual cues to explain difficult concepts and give new information
  • allow people time to absorb new information
  • allow people to learn from wrong answers
  • let the members of the group teach each other

Could it be that what so many researchers, theorists, columnists and consultants have been trying to depict is nothing more than what we can observe through the normal functioning of a school environment?  Critics of performance reviews going back to Deming, Scholtes and others advocate more constant feedback and 1-on-1 interaction.  Project management experts advocate the use of rigorous up-front planning, constant communication and well-defined measurement criteria in order to achieve success.  Leadership coaches and organizational development experts talk of the need for empathy and emotional intelligence  in order to bring people to high levels of engagement and achievement.

In essence, the classroom is a microcosm of a learning culture.  The suggestions we so often discuss for creating leaders who bring out the best in people are already present in a typical classroom.  Whether a pre-kindergarten class or an adult graduate course, the traits are common:  Patience, planning, flexibility, respect for others, learning from mistakes, constant communication and measureable criteria for success or failure provided at regular, frequent intervals.

Several months ago, I wrote a post that encouraged would-be managers and leaders to think of themselves as “teachers.”  In this capacity, they would have the responsibility to serve as a facilitator, collaborator and mentor.  After several months of commenting on the subject, my opinion has only been reinforced.  Perhaps we need to change our terminology from “Manager” or “Leader” to “Educator”  in order to facilitate different expectations and send a  message as to exactly what behaviors are expected of the person in the role, and also of what the organization values?

It appears to me that companies that engage in creating a learning organization have successfully brought the Classroom Culture into the workplace.  It’s fairly well understood that where structure is the norm, measurement is robust, feedback is continuous and curiosity is rewarded – success follows.  Since that is the case, we ought to look to those who practice working with these methods out of habit, and encourage those in leadership positions to overcome poor performance by simply turning to a different group of people against which to benchmark and model their behaviors.

One thought on “Establishing a classroom culture”

Comments are closed.